The process of drawing out and twisting together plant and animal fibers to form a yarn is ancient.
Some of the earliest aids to spinning were drop spindles, although their form has changed a little since prehistoric times when they were likely to have been a handy stone on the end of a stick. Current drop spindles are mostly made of wood, with a metal hook, or notch to guide the yarn onto the whorl.
Drop spindles – Top whorl – Bottom whorl – Turkish
Drop spindles rely on the yarn that is spun being strong enough to support the spindle that is being used. For very fine fibers a very light spindle is required, for heavier weight yarns a heavier spindle (which will spin longer) can be used. Some fibers such as cotton, however, have a very short staple length and some projects (such as orenburg lace) require such fine yarns that even the most delicate drop spindle would snap the yarn. Such yarns are impractical to spin on a drop spindle but these problems can be overcome by using a supported spindle. Here twist can be added to fiber, but as the weight of the spindle is supported by the spindle ‘bowl’ there is no extra tension through the yarn. There are many types of supported spindle including Tibetan, Russian and Phang.
Spinning wheels are believed to have originated in the 1200s, their designs slowly evolving to the foot-powered versions that most people are familiar with today. They have allowed spinners to greatly increase their productivity, and have been so important to society that they have been incorporated into fairy tales, art and music.
There are many different types of spinning wheels within our Guild including an electrical model built by a few of our Guild members! Most members would recommend that you spend a bit of time trying out different wheels before you purchase one. Your height, preference for single or double treadle, what weight of yarn you think you’ll spin, and whether you want it to fold away and travel with you are all important considerations when choosing a wheel. The Guild has a number of wheels that members can try